System Of Portable Restrooms Considered To Fight Hepatitis A Outbreak

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A system of portable restrooms will be considered as the latest tool to fight the recent outbreak of hepatitis A among the homeless.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin recently introduced a motion calling on the city to explore the option, and the Homelessness and Poverty Committee is set to take it up for consideration Wednesday.

“Without access to the basic right of a restroom, people living on the streets are at a significantly increased risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis A that are spread through human feces,” the motion states.

Reports of the disease among the homeless have spiked in recent months in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz, causing L.A County to declare an official outbreak in September.

The outbreak is worst in San Diego, where 490 cases and 18 deaths have been reported. The state has vaccinated over 80,000 at-risk people to try to fight the spread of the disease and Gov. Jerry Brown declared of a state of emergency last week due to the outbreak.

The motion calls for a report on available funding sources for emergency portable restrooms, as well as the bathroom attendants that would be required to operate them, along with where they could be lawfully placed. Staff would also explore the potential for creating a system modeled after the “Pit Stop” program in San Francisco.

Dr. Gil Chavez of the California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Diseases said last week that adding hand-washing stations and bathrooms near homeless encampments could help fight the disease.

“I think there are two keys to preventing hepatitis A; one being vaccination, and two being good access to sanitation,” Chavez said.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that can spread easily through homeless populations because it thrives in unsanitary conditions and is primarily spread through contact with feces via surfaces or sexual contact.

L.A. County sees about 40-60 cases of hepatitis A annually, and although this year’s numbers have not risen above normal, officials raised concerns because of 10 cases reported in homeless patients.

Of those 10 cases, five were linked to the outbreaks in San Diego or Santa Cruz and three more cases involved workers at a health facility that could be traced back to the first five. But the source of two cases in homeless individuals could not be identified, leading to the declaration of a local outbreak.

A report released in June found there are only nine public toilets available at night in the Skid Row neighborhood, where roughly 1,800 homeless people sleep at night.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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